Monday, April 9, 2012

A Look Back at the 2012 Coho Shore Fishing in Chicago

I started this blog three years ago, it's purpose was to be a journal of adventures in the Great Lakes region.  It kept me busy through some slow times, and took the back burner in the middle years.  I let it grow to an unsustainable point, with all of the forecasts, news, related stories, and links to other blogs and fishing venues.  I let it snowball and then I nearly killed it in the middle of last year, but given some distance I've realized that I miss it, and that I'd like to cut it back to the meat, what it was started for, to share stories with my friends and those who care to read it.

The first Coho Salmon of the year, on March 6th.
This spring we conquered the lakefront coho fishing like in no year before. We fished in the slim slice of daylight before the work day started, some days I had two coho on ice in my car, in the dark, in the cooler, in the trunk.  Away from everything, my mind full of the thought.  Those perfect coho scales covered my boots, they are still on some of the cork and carbon of my rods, I leave them there to remind me of the spring.

Two days after the first.
This year I was fortunate, I caught them under floats, with lures, with spoons, and with the trot line.  Every time I went out I caught fish, and everything I used caught fish.

One day three others joined me and in one morning we caught 34 between the 4 of us, myself catching 14.  The record warmth we had in the first quarter of 2012 brought the fish up from the south basin a month early, and they were only here for a short time.  Two weeks of perfect fishing, followed by a short spurt of brown trout, followed by only hopes that they would return, though I knew they were out in deep water, and headed north, toward the flotilla of boats waiting with peanut flies off Waukegan, Racine, and Milwaukee.

42 degrees.  When the surface temps hit 42 degrees, the fish will be here.  When they get to 40 it will be time to get out, though the water may take a few rays of sunlight before the fish get active.  Once you hit 45 degrees things will slow down, and 46 and up you'll see the slowdown kick in to full gear.  42 degrees and you can't miss.  Muddy water, clear water, wave action or glass, you'll find fish.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Battleship finds Lake Trout : Milwaukee Harbor Fishing, April 2012

This weekend I found myself sliding into my sleeping bag in the back of my car for the first real salmon hunting adventure of the year.  I thought I was paddling out at dawn in search of small brown trout which swarm to Milwaukee's harbor and surrounding areas in the spring, and that with enough luck I might find a lake trout to add a notch to the battleship with a new species.

The first lake trout found a white/grey 600 series Deep Little Ripper from Reef Runner, my now undisputed favorite lure maker for all species of salmon and trout the great lakes has to offer.  I was in 39 feet of water at 7:30 in the morning, the sun still low on the horizon.  I stopped paddling to check my lines, as I had traveled something close to 3/4 of a mile without a hit I wanted to make sure everything was running smoothly.  I burned in my other line first, which happened to be a 7 cm wonderbread colored flicker shad, made by Berkley.  That line was clear, so I grabbed my second rod, and began to crank in the reef runner pretty quickly.  About half way in, maybe 60 feet from the Kayak, probably just when the lure started to pull up from 20 feet below it stopped dead in the water.  I set the hook and the battle started.  It was the classic Lake Trout fight, a little hit, followed by a slow heavy drag until I got a glimpse of it below me in the water, then straight down to the bottom it shot, drag screaming all the way.  After that there were a couple more halfhearted attempts at an escape to the bottom, but it submitted and I grabbed it by the tail and kept it in the water while I removed the hooks.  Pulled it up onto the battleship, as it was her first successful Lake Trout catch, for a photo.

I released the beautiful fish with a little more confidence, having learned that it might be helpful to paddle harder than I do for Kings in the fall.  When I generally move deliberately slow and even, with pauses and pops of the paddles to trigger strikes.  I checked leaders for scuffs and re-set lines and picked up at a quicker, somewhat less sustainable speed.  Within 10 or 15 minutes my other rod started deeply pulsing and I swiftly snatched it from the rod holder and set the hook, this one was a bit heavier and I did the usual comical two rod shuffle to keep pressure on my fish, and clear the other line.

Unfortunately when you set the hook your kayak almost immediately spins around from the fish pulling opposite the direction you are facing.  This crosses your lines, I have noticed a pattern that is hard to describe in text, though I will do my best, as it may benifit any of you kayak anglers out there.  If your kayak spins to the direction of the rod with a fish on, you will have an easier time clearing your second line than if it spins the opposite way... this is to say if your left rod hooks a fish, if you grab it, and hold it facing far to the left, so that your left side swings toward the fish, your other line will cross behind you, and still be clear of the fish (provided it doesn't run across it which it almost always decides to do anyway). If it swings the other direction, to the right, you will be much more likely to tangle, unless you twist far right and keep the rod pointed to your stern...  The difference is small, but if hardwired in, it can make a small difference, as I usually try to clear my second line in the first 30 seconds or so, this might keep lines apart long enough to make less pain for you.  Another thing I sometimes do if tangled is have my knife ready to slice my second lure off the active line when it gets up to my rod.

Having said all this, I was just beginning a right turn... and the fish hit on my left rod... and I instantly swung right and had a very small line cross issue that I was able to solve by simply flipping some line back over the active rod when it got close to the boat.  I had the second laker in hand after a much more impressive run that took drag for a good 20 straight seconds. This one was closer to 10 lbs.

I released this one as well and made way for the center gap, which is where I would stop to try to my luck vertical jigging with hopes that since I found active lake trout willing to rise to a lure in 40 feet of water, that I would have the same luck near a strong mud-line in 30+ feet of water where I knew (hoped...) bait fish would be.

I stuck with that for an admittedly short period of time and with no luck, and paddled back outside the gap for a with-the-wind run back toward the north gap.  I first paddled crosswind out to around 45 feet on an easterly troll, I then hooked and headed straight with the South-East breeze back toward the gap, straying to find the rock drop off on the seawall that protects the harbor, hoping that I would find those browns I was looking for.  As I paddled through the north gap a shore fisherman netted a small brown and I gave him a solid fist pump as I paddled past.  I slowly had the realization that maybe my crank baits weren't going to cut it, and that maybe I should have been running a more diverse spread with either a dodger and peanut fly, or a Dipsey with a smaller spoon... I put a spoon on the heavier of my two rods and started trolling a small triangle that made use of structure that I thought some of the browns might start to relate to as the sun got higher.  At 10:21 (I know this because I suddenly realized I had to make a phone call I had promised to someone at 10:00) I pulled the two lines so I could stop for a second and as I quickly brought in the only 30 feet of line I had on the Dipsey rod I had a sudden burst of energy in the rod and a 25" Brown Trout busted out of the water with Dipsey Diver in tow and proceed to jump in front of the kayak and then out of the water right into the rod on my port side.  It was a short fight and I quickly grabbed the feisty fish and popped the hook out.  With wet hands, a wily fish, and with phone in my pocket I just let the little guy go and cheerfully made my call.  I made a couple more passes and decided to call it a morning around 11:00 and make the paddle back to where I launched.

I hoped to hit the water again at around 4:30 to get another session in, but the calm lake kicked up to 4 foot sets of white capped waves, and the wind did not submit back to a 5-10 mph breeze as predicted.  I made good use of my afternoon, making a solo trip to my old favorite beach in the area, where I enjoyed fruit and a bonfire in solitude.

My noble steed and the battleship.

All in all the day made for everything a good spring day should make for.  Adventure.